The West Hollywood West Residents Association has filed suit against the City of West Hollywood over the City Council’s approval of the 8899 Beverly project.
The suit, filed in L.A. Superior Court, asks that the court order the city to revoke its decision to grant the developers of the project an exception to WeHo’s general plan and a change in the zoning ordinance. That exception, granted by the City Council in August, allows the developer to almost double the size of the existing 90,000-square-foot building, which already is twice the size of what is permitted for that area under the general plan. The 10-story building was constructed in 1962, 22 years before West Hollywood was incorporated as a city and thus was “grandfathered” into the general plan, which limits commercial buildings in the area to three stories and a smaller mass on the 1.7 acre lot.
The developer is Beverly Blvd. Associates, a limited partnership controlled by Townscape Partners of Beverly Hills that also is party to the lawsuit. It intends to convert the office building, which sits on the north side of Beverly between Almont and Robertson, into 52 condominiums with an additional 15 units for low- and moderate-income people. It also plans to build nine single-family houses on Rosewood Drive behind the 8899 Beverly building.
The project has been controversial since its inception. Residents of West Hollywood West, an area largely composed of single-family homes that lies north of the project, have been particularly vocal. They have raised concerns about the impact of traffic from the project on their neighborhood. They also have expressed concern about the design of the north-facing side of the building. And they have objected to the design of a group of town homes on Rosewood that the developer originally proposed.
Townscape also raised hackles when it was discovered that its original plan called for segregating low- and moderate-income residents from amenities, such as a swimming pool, available to the condo owners. That “poor door” approach has been the subject of heated debate in major cities such as New York City and Chicago. Townscape eventually moved those units into the main 8899 Beverly building, grouping them on the same level in what has been criticized as a “poor floor” tactic.
Some residents also were upset to discover that Townscape; its owners, Tyler Siegel and John Irwin, and their family members and lawyers, none of whom live in West Hollywood, have spent thousands of dollars supporting West Hollywood City Council incumbents in recent elections. In 2013 Townscape gave $2,500 to a committee established to fight what turned out to be a successful effort to limit incumbent City Council members to three terms in office. Term limits were supported by City Councilmember Lauren Meister and Councilmember John D’Amico, the only two current council members who voted against approving the 8899 Beverly project.
Siegel, Irwin and family members also donated $8,000 to Councilmember John Duran for his last City Council race and for his unsuccessful race in 2014 summer for the 3rd District Seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Duran voted to approve the project. Townscape donated $10,000 to “WeHo United for John Heilman for City Council 2015,” an independent expenditure group backing Heilman’s election campaign. Heilman also voted in favor of the project as did Mayor Lindsey Horvath.
Acquiring 8899 Beverly with the hope of doubling its size and converting it into condos was a gamble. Siegel and Irwin, former employees of the Related Companies, a New York-based real estate firm, spent a reported $40 million to buy the 49-year-old office building. At the time, the L.A. Business Journal described it as one of the largest acquisitions in recent years. Nearly doubling the size of the 90,000-square-foot building and selling it off as condominiums, which by some estimates are going for as much as $600 a square foot in West Hollywood, likely will gross more than $100 million for the developers.
The WHWRA suit makes many of complaints, some tied to complex interpretation of city and state laws regarding zoning and land use. The suit argues that city’s general plan permits only “limited housing” on Beverly Boulevard, and that it states such housing “should be focused on artist/live work housing,” which is not the case with the Townscape project. It disputes the use of several million dollars pledged by Townscape for public benefits. For example, Townscape plans to spent $1.25 million to subsidize the losses of Madeo restaurant, which is inside the 8899 Beverly building, while the building undergoes development. The suit argues that it’s not clear how a $1.75 million payment for Beverly Boulevard streetscape improvements is to be spent in a way that connects the improvements with the project. All in all, the suit says, “these (unenforceable) promises represent a blatant attempt to ‘buy’ a zoning variance under false guise of the adoption of a specific plan … in contravention of the City’s zoning codes and state law.”